A Day in the Life of an AVP – the (whirlwind) May edition

Woke up (in a whirlwind). . .

Fell out of bed (into a tornado). . .

Dragged a comb across my head (in a cyclone). . .

May has been a remarkably busy month.  As you can tell from the introduction to this post and my parenthetical additions to the Beatles lyrics, every day has felt like I’m in a whirlwind of important projects and decision-making large and small.  So here we go – you get to ride the wind with me.

Buckle up, and hold onto your hats!

Hiring notebooks
  • ACC uses these notebooks (big, blue, 3-ring binders) to move the paperwork associated with hiring new full-time faculty through the pipeline.  The notebooks contain the committee membership, the applicant list, the interview list, applications and transcripts of interviewees, reference checks, a justification letter regarding the committee’s recommendations, and candidate approval forms.
  • My preference is to visit with the dean and department chair (or hiring  committee chair) to ask questions about the hiring process and the committee’s recommendations.  Given that we made fundamental changes to our full-time faculty hiring approach to embed equity more intentionally and throughout the process, I’ve been particularly eager to talk to hiring committee chairs and get feedback on changes to the process.
  • The “notebook” goes from the dean, to me, to the VP of Instruction, to the Provost, to the President.  We all  have to sign off because hiring faculty is the most important thing that we do to support our educational mission.  So part of the day focused on hiring notebooks and the concomitant conversations.
Personnel issues
  • I’ll save you the details.  Personnel issues are part and parcel of this job.  Sometimes they’re pretty straightforward, and sometimes they’re messy.  This one is messy, but it still  has to be dealt with.
Registration Liaisons
  • Registration Liaisons (RLs) are faculty, both adjunct and full-time, who were hired in the Spring to help transfer students with registration issues in the first week of a teaching session.  If a student was dropped for non-payment, an RL can help the student find another class option and rebuild his/her schedule.  If the college made an error that resulted in the student being dropped, then the RL can put the student back into the class, even if it’s full.  RLs get a lot of business in the first week, and the job title is new.
  • Because this is a new job title, part of what we’re still working out is how to systematically communicate not just who the RLs are, but more importantly what their availability is each semester (since office hours can change based on teaching schedules).  So I spent some time this week asking and answering questions about that communication plan.
A&M Engineering Academy
  • ACC has a wonderful partnership with Texas A&M that allows up to 100 students – those who want to study engineering – to be admitted simultaneously to ACC and TAMU.  They take an Engineering course each semester here at ACC that is taught by an A&M Professor of Practice, and they take their other coursework with us.
  • At some point, when students maintain the required GPA, they switch to their preferred Engineering program at Texas A&M.  Is that a great opportunity for students in Central Texas?  Yes it is!  TAMU gets approximately 13,000 applications to its College of Engineering each year, and admits about 3000 – and they are giving us 100 slots.
  • The day involved a meeting about recruitment.  We can’t seem to find the magic formula that helps us get to 100 admitted students – we can get to 70ish, but not more.  So we were brainstorming additional outreach efforts.
  • Secondarily, UTSA is exploring a similar concurrent enrollment engineering program with us.  And Texas State is as well.  The key will be to craft the specifics so that we’re serving our students and developing good partnerships.  And the key will be in messaging, outreach, and recruitment.
UT’s Explore Law Program
  • Speaking of partnerships, here’s another one, this one with the University of Texas and Huston-Tillotson.  This is a new partnership, and frankly, we launched it in a rush.  But it’s another great opportunity for our students to explore a law career, have a residential experience on the H-T campus, connect with other students at UT and H-T as well as with law faculty.
  • The four-week program is for students with at least 24 semester credit hours with a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher.  The opportunity was brought to us, so we couldn’t say no.  However, that meant someone had to push the opportunity out to students, connect with our UT partners, and ultimately sift through the applications to make decisions about who would be invited to participate.  That someone was me – but be assured that the selection committee included Dr. Gretchen Riehl, AVP of Workforce Education, and Dr. Shasta Buchanan, AVP of College & High School Relations.  Our selections were due May 31, so the three of us scrambled to find the time to read applicants’ personal statements, writing samples, resumes, and supporting letters of recommendations.
  • We had 15 students apply, and we can select ten, so our recommendations went forward on May 31. Whew!  Deadline met, opportunity offered to some deserving students.
Achieving the Dream OER Degree Initiative grant report
  • The AtD OER-DI grant began in the summer of 2016 and ran through December 31, 2018.  We were obligated to submit three annual reports (Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019).  As Director of the Texas Consortium that collectively developed two Z-degrees (Alamo Colleges, El Paso Community College, San Jacinto College, and ACC), the annual reports were my responsibility.  This Spring 2019 report was due April 30, and I missed the deadline.  When I tried to submit it in early May, the access had been turned off.
  • Luckily for me, I wasn’t the only one to miss the deadline – so our friends at Achieving the Dream turned access back on and gave us until May 31.  My thanks to Ursula Pike, Instructional Initiatives Coordinator, who wrote the first draft.  And my thanks to Melissa Bedford-Guidry, Accountant – Record to Report (R2R), who did a last minute budget report for me.  I submitted the report mid-afternoon on May 31.  Whew!
Department Chair Summer Institute
  • We have elevated our expectations for department chairs because our instructional programs need and deserve strategic leadership.  For the last few years department chairs have spent their time on compliance issues, student complaints, schedule development and staffing, and faculty hiring and evaluation.  If we want them to be strategic leaders, we need to help them do so.  So we began by giving them additional support (more release time; help from Assistant Deans with things like discipline assessment and distance education best practices).  We then moved to our obligation to provide relevant and meaningful professional development for them so that they have the tools to be strategic leaders.  Thus the DC Summer Institute was born.
  • We are holding three Institutes this summer to ensure that all department chairs can attend.  I am working with Dr. Gretchen Riehl, AVP of Workforce Education, and Dr. Susan Thomason, AVP of Instructional Services, to develop/finalize the plans for the 2 1/2 day institutes.  On this particular day, Gretchen and I met to hone the agenda and the themes for the Institute.  In addition, I weighed in on the menu planning (appetizers at the conclusion of the first afternoon, lunch on the next two days).
  • That’s life as an AVP – menu planning, report writing, personnel issues, marketing – all in a day’s work!
#TXCoReqs Continuous Improvement Conference
  • At this point you’re thinking “Isn’t her day over yet?”  No.  Not quite. I am the Director of the Texas Corequisite Project, a THECB-funded grant to offer professional development around the state to two-year and four-year colleges and universities to help them successfully and effectively meet the mandates of HB2223.  HB2223 requires that developmental students be accelerated through their developmental education sequence by be enrolled in corequisite course pairings that provide contextualized and just-in-time remediation.  Thus, the professional development under this grant must help Texas public colleges and universities launch, refine, improve, and grow their corequisite developmental/college credit course offerings.  My co-director is Carolynn Reed, Math/Developmental Math Department Chair.  My right-hand person (in this grant and in all my AVP work) is Rhonda Little, Executive Assistant extraordinaire.
  • We’re hosting a conference June 7-8.  Conferences have multiple moving parts – programs and name tags, concurrent sessions and keynotes, lunch (more menu planning!) and room reservations, wayfinding and communication plans.  And this conference has even more moving parts, because the focus is on Continuous Improvement in Corequisites.  Each attending college had to submit pre-work (which has to be tracked).  Each attending college will participate in several “team time” sessions where they will receive coaching on defining their problem of practice and developing a short-term action plan and an assessment plan based on their pre-work.  Luckily for Carolynn and me, we are partnering with RAND Education and AIR (American Institutes for Research), and they have done some really heavy lifting on this conference.  And luckily for Carolynn and me, Rhonda is gifted.  We’d be lost without her.
Space requests
  • Space requests? Really?  Yes, really.  If someone wants to request a move to a different campus, or if we need to request an office for a new hire, there’s a form (of course!) and a process.  The form requires my signature before it goes on through the pipeline for other signatures.  Sounds simple, yes?  Except there are multiple space requests, and multiple signatures, and multiple phone calls and multiple emails to track it all.
  • Life as an AVP involves things large and small, detailed and big picture.

But, hey – it’s all part of a day in the life of an AVP in a whirlwind!

Sand Dust Image by Pattadis Walaput from Pixabay

Equity

What is equity and why is it important?  This article in Community College Daily describes equity as “unfinished business” for community colleges across the country.  While community colleges have long been focused on (and excelled at) open access and second chances, we haven’t done nearly as good a job with our focus on equitable student outcomes – that is, success for all students.

ACC recently updated its strategic plan to put equity front and center in all our work.  When you visit that link, you’ll see that our priorities are:

  1. Equity and Access:  Increase annual unduplicated enrollment at ACC to 85,000 students by 2030 through equity focused connection and entry processes.
  2. Persistence and Engagement:  Develop an equitable and inclusive learning and student support environment that increases fall-to-fall persistence rates to 58 percent for all students.
  3. Completion and and Transition to Employment/Transfer:  Achieve equitable results in completion and increase annual credential awards to 15,000 by 2030 to improve transfer and employment outcomes for all ACC students.
  4. Effective and Efficient Operations and Infrastructure:  Ensure an organizational environment that promotes equitable student and employee success through effective and efficient operations and infrastructure.

Why does the year 2030 serve as a benchmark?  Because the higher education strategic plan for the State of Texas is 60x30TX, and one of its main goals is for 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 to have a postsecondary credential by 2030.

Here at ACC we’ve spent the last year working intentionally to embed an equity framework into our faculty hiring processes.  What does that mean?  Equity does not mean equality, nor does equity mean diversity.  Strategic diversity may be a tactic along the way to equity, but our equity work in faculty hiring is aimed at helping us do a better job of finding faculty who celebrate who our students are and what they bring to the table, who regularly examine inequality in student outcomes, who assess their teaching practices that might contribute to those unequal outcomes, and who seek to help all students succeed.

Equity can mean differential supports in the classroom because not all students are equal in talents or abilities or skills, just as not all faculty or staff (or administrators) are equal in talents or abilities or skills.

Equity can mean moving away from traditional, standardized “tests” to more nuanced means of assessing student learning – including project-based assessments, research assignments, or in-class active and applied learning opportunities.

Equity requires a certain cultural humility so that our examples and illustrations in the classroom, our required readings, our references, even our jokes all reflect and respect the variety of backgrounds and perspectives in the classroom.

Equity requires us to look at our institutional policies and practices with a fresh perspective, seeking out ways in which those policies and practices might perpetuate unintended but undeniable inequitable treatment and outcomes.  But it’s not enough to look for those embedded institutional biases, we must also then act to change those policies and practices.

Equity requires much of all of us – professional development, self-awareness, willingness to change, intentional practice in language, interactions, and course design, mutual respect, and so much more.

One of the leaders in this work in higher education is the Center for Urban Education under the direction of Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon.  There are a multitude of resources on CUE’s website, but here‘s just one.  I had the good fortune a year ago to attend CUE’s Equity in Faculty Hiring Institute for community colleges.  I was reminded that we all have implicit biases that show up in our decision-making around whom to hire.  Without self-reflection and self-awareness, it’s too easy to rely on unconscious stereotypes.  And given our hiring processes – limited information about candidates, multiple commitments in addition to serving on hiring committees, being asked to evaluate multiple applicants in a short period of time, our inclination to prefer candidates who look or act or think or were educated like us, little time to discuss as a committee notions of “merit” and “fit”, and so on – it requires great focus and intentionality to revitalize our hiring practices to ensure that equity-mindedness is at the center.  It requires everyone to commit to that focus and intentionality.  It requires us all to recognize that we can, should, and must do better.

Our focus on equity in faculty hiring asks us all to recognize that we are subject to the influence of implicit biases and assumptions, both personal and institutional.  The Equity in Faculty Hiring Steering Committee made a variety of decisions aimed at embedding equity-mindedness in faculty hiring.  We required hiring committees to diversify (for instance, to ask for a faculty member outside of the program to serve on the committee).  We posted and advertised our full-time faculty jobs for 90 days to build a rich, deep, and broad applicant pool.  We completely rewrote the job posting to describe who we are, whom we serve, and whom we want to join us.  We asked each applicant to submit not only a letter of interest and a CV, but also a statement of teaching philosophy and an equity statement.  We eliminated the “preferred” qualifications in academic transfer postings that often became de facto required qualifications and served as a means of inequitably reducing the applicant pool.  We offered hiring committees sample equity-minded interview questions and an equity-minded summative evaluation rubric.  We encouraged hiring committees to conduct two rounds of interviews, the first via Skype or Zoom with a wide range of candidates, and the second in person with the finalists.  In other words, we encouraged hiring committees to use inclusion strategies rather than exclusion strategies when deciding whom to consider.

Was it perfect?  Of course not.  Can we do better next year?  Absolutely.  Equity is a journey, but you should know that it is at the heart of ACC’s work going forward.  I invite you to join me on the journey.

Adobe Creative Cloud

ACC is now an Adobe Creative Campus.  What does that mean?  Well, for one, it means that students in many of our more “creative” programs get low-cost access to the Adobe Creative Suite.  And for another, it means that students, staff, and faculty will be able to explore and develop their skills in using Photoshop, Spark, Lightroom, Illustrator, and more.

We live in a digital age.  We are here to help our students learn skills, develop habits of thinking, and hone abilities that will foster their success in this digital age, not just in their first job after college but in their next job, and the next job after that.  And while you and I aren’t active college students, we nonetheless believe in continual learning – otherwise why else work at a community college?  So we, too, need to develop or hone our digital and creative skills, and becoming an Adobe Creative Campus presents that opportunity to all of us.

What do employers say they need in the entering workforce?  Here’s one source with answers.  And here’s another.  And here’s a third (just for fun).  Here’s a list out of Australia.  Here’s a perspective from the World Economic Forum based on LinkedIn data.

In general, each survey shows similar needs year after year.

  • Communication skills.
  • Willingness to learn.
  • Intercultural fluency.
  • Thinking skills/problem-solving.
  • Ability to work collaboratively.
  • Leadership skills.
  • Digital fluency.
  • Creativity and innovation.

The work that occurred here at ACC to become an Adobe Creative Campus was motivated by our role in helping our students achieve their goals.  To learn more about this Adobe Creative Campus initiative and how you can develop your own digital fluency and creativity, visit this link.  There’s also a launch event on May 21 from 10:00 to 11:30 in the Board Room (room 201) at Highland Business Center, so feel free to stop by.

Join me in celebrating our achievement as the first community college to become an Adobe Creative Campus.  Take advantage.  And start creating!

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the April Edition

The month of April has come and gone, and it included two conferences (the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention; the Texas Pathways Institute #6) along with the always swirling work in support of student success.

There were many days from which to choose for this month’s day in the life, but I’ve settled on Friday, April 26.  Friday was the concluding day of the three-day Texas Pathways Institute #6.  These Institutes are supported by the Texas Success Center (an arm of the Texas Association of Community Colleges); 48 of the state’s 50 community colleges participate by sending a small team to each Institute.  The Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC) is an advocacy organization supported by all 50 community colleges in its efforts to influence higher education policy-making as well as innovation around the state.  The Texas Success Center then provides direct support to Texas community colleges engaging in work to support student success.

Each Pathways Institute is a mix of plenaries, concurrent sessions, and team time.  ACC took a large team to Institute #6 – approximately 30 folks (we think we set a record!).  Our team was heavily weighted to instruction (it consisted of adjunct and full-time faculty, department chairs, deans, and Continuing Education), and also included Student Affairs representatives.  Each Pathways Institute has an overarching theme, and Institute #6 was focused on “Ensuring students are learning”.

Colleges do “homework” prior to each Pathways Institute.  This Institute asked us to conduct a student focus group, to map learning outcomes in a degree plan to look for curricular coherence, and to update our Scale of Adoption Assessment (SOAA) that we initially completed in 2017.  (This SOAA document requires the college team to assess how our work is going in adopting the pathways principles and framework to better serve our students.)  Each Institute especially includes several sessions of team time, during which we answer guiding questions that lead us ultimately to brainstorming our latest short-term action plan.

Because we took 30 members of our team (typically we take 15), we divided into two teams, and I was asked to lead the discussions of Team 2.  How do we ensure that students are learning?  How do we ensure curricular coherence for students?  How do we ensure that students know what they need to know when they need to know it so that they can navigate our systems and processes?  Different students need different things at different times – so the concept of differential supports is embedded our work.  This picture illustrates differential supports in action. 

As team leader, I was taking notes while also guiding the discussion.  As a middle-aged woman, I was uncomfortably hot and wanted (needed) to fan myself.  But I couldn’t do both.  So a friend and colleague in Student Affairs (thanks, Wade!) picked up my fan and spent ten or more minutes fanning me while I typed and asked questions of the team.  No one else at the table needed to be fanned – but Wade understood that I did, and he helped.  That was not just collegiality, it was awareness and attention that led to action.  To extend the metaphor, sometimes an individual student might need to be fanned, and we have the ability to turn awareness of a particular need into action to meet that need.  That is key to helping our students succeed, one by one, offering the support that will make a difference each step along the way.

Our Friday morning at the Pathways Institute ended at noon, at which point we all gathered our suitcases to head back to Austin (the Institute was in San Antonio).  I had hitched a ride with the Provost and the Vice President of Instruction, so we got back on the road around 12:30 with Dr. Cook behind the wheel (thanks for driving, Dr. Cook!).  It was Fiesta time in San Antonio, so it took us a while to find a circuitous route around the parade to I-35, but Mike navigated us with aplomb from the back seat.  It was also a Friday afternoon, which means I-35 was slow – and made slower by an accident that had northbound traffic stopped.  All in all, it took us three hours to get back to HBC, so I was back in the office by 3:30.

Dr. Cook had asked me to send him the results of our team time and the brainstorming around our next short-term action plan, so I finalized that and sent it to him soon after we got back to HBC.  From there I turned to catching up on emails and attempting to cram 2 1/2 days of work in the office that I had missed into three hours.

My day concluded by attending the 7 o’clock Vision+Voice reception in Building 4000 at HLC  If you’re not familiar with Vision+Voice, it’s an annual poetry contest for our K-12 partners, not just in AISD but in surrounding independent school districts.  Winners are selected from kindergarten entries through 12th grade.  It is a lovely evening with families and schoolchildren and ACC faculty and staff all celebrating the power of words. Each winning poet is recorded by KLRU reading their poem, and the videos are played at the event.  

It’s a wonderful evening – look for the latest Vision+Voice Anthology to read the creative and impactful poems of our area schoolchildren.  I’ll leave you with  poem from a 5th grader.  This will remind you of the reasons we put in long days at ACC in service to the communities of Central Texas.

Hate Burned Out

Hudson R., Ridgetop Elementary

The fire made by hate

Was long ago extinguished

By love.

Picture credits:  Missi Patterson (Pathways fanning) and Matthew Daude Laurents (V+V crowds)

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the Spring Break Edition

I have spent my entire life in and around higher education.  My father was a philosophy professor and I found myself following him into the professoriate.  Thus since grade school, and to this day, I have always had a week off in March.  It’s a privileged existence that we have when we can look forward to a week away from the stresses and pressures of work every March.  Spring Break can be a time to stay at home and relax (or stay and home and get things accomplished), or it can be a time to travel.  For me, this Spring Break was a time to travel.

Sometimes, you need to leave behind the challenges of developing the outline of an early alert pilot program for Fall 2019, and instead take the time to look at some palm trees.

 

Sometimes, you need to quit fretting over the draft guidelines and procedures for academic student complaints, and instead board a 50-foot catamaran and go whale watching.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, you need to walk away from the meetings about revisions to our dual credit faculty professional development program and the meetings about how to build a strategic focus into our schedule development process and the meetings about expanding our college destination center, and instead watch the sun set.

 

Sometimes, you need to quit drinking cup after cup of coffee as you power through the work day and instead visit a Kona coffee farm.

 

Sometimes, you need to put aside your work on that presentation at AACC in April and the launch of 8-week programs in the Fall and the upcoming Texas Pathways Institute, and instead enjoy a malasada purchased in a bakery in the southern-most city in the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, you should just let the Facilities folks worry about reopening HLC Building 1000 after a massive water leak and instead visit a lava beach.

 

Sometimes, you have to suspend your work on the final report for the Achieving the Dream  OER Degree Initiative grant and the semi-annual report on the HB 2223 Professional Development grant, and take in the breathtaking view of the steam vents at the caldera of Kilauea instead.

 

Sometimes, your involvement in promoting an intentional equity-focused mindset in faculty hiring just has to be put on hold so you can soak in the beauty of an island shoreline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, all of your work and worry has to be set aside in favor of another sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Break is restorative, and a blessing.  And now we’re back and our work continues.

 

Responding to HB 2223

Some topics or projects dominate our time and effort here at ACC, don’t they?  Those topics vary in origin, but our work occurs in a regulatory environment that reflects legislative action and THECB rule-making, so often our energies are devoted to things that come from legislative action.  One of the recurring foci of my energy and attention is developmental education.   In that vein, I have released a new episode in my occasional series of Webcasts called Academic Transfer in FocusResponding to HB 2223.  This is an interview with Dr. Matthew Daude Laurents, dean of Liberal Arts – Humanities & Communications.

HB 2223 was passed by the 85th Legislature and its intent, as this article in the Texas Tribune tells us, is to get developmental students into college credit courses sooner by mandating the corequisite model of pairing a skills acquisition, just-in-time remediation course with a college credit course.  Here at ACC we have long paired developmental writing with ENGL 1301.  Today our version of that pairing (INRW and ENGL 1301) is called “Comp 5.0” – it’s a total of five semester credit hours and the students get additional time on task as they hone their writing skills.

We also pair INRW (Integrated Reading & Writing) classes with freshman-level “gateway” college credit classes such as U.S. History and Introduction to Sociology.  The goal is to provide developmental students the contextualized reading and writing support that they need to be successful in their college credit class.  Reading and writing in a History class is different than reading and writing in a Sociology or Speech class.  That contextualization is key for students who are deemed not-college-ready based on their reading and writing scores on the Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA).  Instead of spending one semester in an INRW class and then the next semester in an English or History class, now these students get the instructional support that they need to successfully complete the English or History class in their first semester.

The corequisite model not only serves our students effectively, it also supports faculty collaboration across disciplines.  Success in delivering corequisites requires that the INRW faculty member and the History (or Communication Studies or Sociology) faculty member work together.  They must communicate about course requirements and expectations as well as about students who are struggling in the credit class and might need additional support or time on task in the INRW class.  To be effective, corequisites must be double learning communities: both students and faculty learn from and with each other.

If you’re interested in learning more, please watch Responding to HB 2223.  This important work is occurring in Math and Developmental Math as well as in INRW and partner college credit disciplines.  The impact of HB 2223 is yet to be fully understood, but early data show that students are much more likely to succeed in their college credit class when it is paired with a developmental class.  Models vary, but the corequisite piece seems to be key for our not-yet-college-ready students.

Next time you see a Math or INRW faculty member, thank them for their good work in helping our students successfully complete their first college-credit class.

Same song (faculty mentoring), second verse

This article in Inside Higher Ed focuses on the positive and significant impact that a faculty member can have on a student.  We all know this, don’t we?  We all had faculty mentors who made a difference for us on our higher ed journeys.

I can still name some of my faculty mentors:  Harold Sare, Danny Adkison, Franz von Sauer, Bruce Buchanan.  (And yes, all my faculty mentors were male.  That was life in political science when I was in college.)  Can you name yours?  I bet you can.

We are launching a faculty mentoring program here.  I wrote about it in an earlier post, so this is the second verse of the faculty mentoring song.  The administrative rule and guidelines describe our vision for faculty mentoring.  As you can see, when we drafted the rule we were calling it faculty advising.  But really, it’s a mentoring role.  This edition of Academic Transfer in Focus is a chat with the two faculty leaders of this effort.  We have posted seven Instructional Associate (IA) positions for our launch of mentoring.  We will hire seven adjunct faculty as IAs who will work 20 hours a week with their assigned caseload (approximately 330 students), developing the relationships that are the essence of mentoring.  We will have four faculty mentors in the Liberal Arts, two in SEM (Science, Engineering, & Math) and one in Business.  It’s a small start with big goals:

  • help students complete their program of study
  • help students transition to a four-year program and/or to employment in their field
  • support persistence and retention
  • build relationships across instruction and student services and with declared majors in transfer programs
  • develop learning communities around shared interests
  • support engagement and connections for both the faculty mentors and the students being mentored

All of those goals should sound familiar.  Our strategic plan revolves around equity and access, persistence and engagement, completion and transition.  The higher education strategic plan for the State of Texas (60x30TX) supports increased completion of a postsecondary award, with documented marketable skills embedded in every program.  The world has changed and a postsecondary credential is the key to a good life, a thriving community, and an engaged polity.

Community colleges are key to the state’s strategic plan.  Faculty mentoring is a big piece of the persistence and completion puzzle here at ACC.  As we roll out this initial effort, we invite you to think about how you can mentor students and make a difference.  As Adam Weinberg says in his article in Inside Higher Ed, mentors can help students become “the architects of their lives”.  That is a worthy goal we can all support.

Image by geralt on Pixabay

A Day in the Life – the February Edition

February may be the shortest month, but February 20 was one of my longer days this month.

Woke up.

Got out of bed.

Dragged a comb across my head.

I got to work at my usual time – around 8:30AM.  Soon thereafter my office received a call from a student who believed that she had been erroneously charged over $500 for First Day Access books that she wasn’t using.  She had apparently been bounced around from office to office for more than a week (most recently the office of a Dean of Student Affairs had suggested she call my office), so Rhonda (my wonderful Executive Assistant) and I decided to see what we could figure out.

  • We pulled her course schedule, but that didn’t provide enough useful information.
  • We pulled her registration history, but that didn’t provide enough useful information.
  • We pulled the details of her registration activity (days, times she registered and/or dropped a class for Spring 2019), but that didn’t provide enough useful information.
  • We debated recommending that she connect with the relevant deans and/or department chairs for her four courses, but that would just send her out to additional folks for her to state the problem again (and again, and again).
  • We finally asked her if she would send us a pdf of her tuition and fees statement.  Aha!  That was the ticket.  She was reading the statement incorrectly, because it actually did show that she had been refunded several First Day Access charges when she made schedule changes prior to the start of the semester.  When Rhonda called her back to talk her through the tuition statement and the refunds, the student was relieved and grateful.  (And I think that Rhonda may be her new best friend!)
What Else Did the Day Entail?
  • Writing a blurb so that we could put our Department Chair Summer Institute in the workshops database.
  • Responding to an email from colleagues at Lamar University about setting up faculty-to-faculty meetings in support of new articulation agreements.  We have also visited recently with colleagues at Stephen F. Austin and WGU-Texas.  All three visits reflect a desire to strengthen partnerships and pathways for our students.  Lamar University, for instance, has a variety of online programs that could allow our students to complete a baccalaureate degree without leaving Austin.  We are continuing to explore what we can do to give our students transfer options that work for them.
  • Engaging in email conversation with Julie Wauchope, our INRW department chair, about changes to our approach to corequisite course pairs between the INRW department and the English Department (what we call “Comp 5.0”).  Our corequisite work is crucial to helping students gain the academic skills that they need to succeed in their college and career pursuits.  And – as with most things – there is no single perfect way to provide corequisite skills development for students who need that help.  We sometimes have to try a variety of models to see what works for students, for our available resources, and for the institution at large.
  • Spending an hour trying to chase down information about OER source material for our core curriculum courses that are taught with open educational resources.  A request for this information had been directed to Dr. Cook, who then directed it to me.  The legislature is in town (as you know) and some legislators are considering legislation to expand the use of OER for core curriculum courses.  This request came from an associate of OpenStax who was hoping to inform the legislative staff discussions about how colleges actually provide OER options to students.  It turns out we may be able to run reports on Z-classes (zero textbook costs), but we don’t have a centralized database that tells us what openly-licensed course materials are being used in those Z-classes.  So all I could do was go to the course schedule, sort by Z-classes, and sift through the syllabus links in Lighthouse.  It was actually informative – our faculty have found a variety of sources for their openly licensed and freely available course materials!
  • Drafting (in fits and starts throughout the day) my welcome remarks for the evening’s panel discussion at EVC (sponsored by Mercy Corps, the World Affairs Council of Austin, and ACC’s Peace & Conflict Studies Center).
  • Approving some fractional overloads for adjunct faculty.
  • Responding to some issues with our use of the Ad Astra “optimizer”, a tool that optimizes the assignment of course sections to classrooms to best utilize our space.  Turns out that we optimized some corequisite Math classes right out of their rooms!
  • Continuing to try to ensure that every single member of every single full-time faculty hiring committee has participated in our equity in faculty hiring training.  This training has been offered two dozen times (thanks to Dr. Chantae Recasner and Dr. Sam Echevarria-Cruz), but we still seem to have missed some folks.
  • Booking a meeting with a CoBd colleague to discuss fiscal issues related to our Texas Corequisite Project grant.
  • Sending out a reminder email about Fall schedule development timelines, including First Day Access/FacultyEnlight deadlines for Fall.
  • Engaging in both email and hallway discussions about data needs related to the Teagle Foundation grant that supports the continuing development of HUMA 1301:  Prehistory to Renaissance:  The Great Questions Seminar.  This iteration of HUMA 1301 (The Great Questions Seminar) is now an accepted Success course option in some degree plans (in addition to EDUC 1300/1200/1100, HPRS 1171, and POFT 1171).
Big Finish to the Day

I left the office a little after 6:00PM to head to our Eastview Campus for “Preventing Conflict:  The Role of Diplomacy and Development in Reducing Insecurity”, a panel discussion that included retired Admiral William McRaven and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Yes, sometimes this job comes with remarkable opportunities – and I got to meet and chat with two towering public servants.  I also had the privilege of sharing the stage with them (briefly) while welcoming everyone to this event.  Thanks to the hard work of Dr. Shirin Khosropour, Department Chair for Interdisciplinary Studies and Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Center, ACC hosted a full house in the multipurpose room at EVC to hear from sage and seasoned foreign policy experts.  It was a great event, and illustrates the scope of the work that we do here at ACC to the benefit of our students and our community.

Coda

After the panel discussion (around 8:30PM) as I was chatting with folks, a student came up to me to say thank you.  Guess who?  Yes – the student who had called my office that morning because she was so stressed out at the thought that she had been overcharged several hundred dollars for First Day Access.  What a perfect end to a varied day – being reminded that we all do what we can to make a difference for every single student.

Biosciences

Did you know that ACC actively supports the biosciences?  Have you ever toured our Bioscience Incubator at HLC in Building 4000?  This article reminds us that our academic programs have scope and impact, including our biology and biotechnology programs.  And this article illustrates how the Bioscience Incubator makes a difference for our local community.

ACC’s Bioscience Incubator provides wet lab space for local companies to rent as they try to move their product from the research stage to commercialization.  The facility opened in February 2017 and was initially funded through a $4.9 million grant from the State of Texas.  It is the only such facility at a community college in the state.  And the best part is that ACC students have opportunities to serve as interns, gaining additional skills in their chosen field.  In addition, ACC faculty have opportunities to collaborate with professionals in life sciences to enhance their teaching.  A variety of companies lease space in the Incubator, supporting the creation of additional full-time jobs in Central Texas.

As a student intern in the ACC Bioscience Incubator, Mike Delisi gained confidence in his capabilities as a scientist.  This confidence has directly contributed to his career in biotechnology.

“The extended exposure to lab protocols, day-to-day lab activities, equipment, and processes all helped me to become familiar with most of what a job might throw at me.  Working close proximity with numerous industry professionals from a variety of backgrounds offered a demonstration of what I could expect to encounter.  I think the single largest contribution the Incubator has made to my career is the confidence in my own capabilities as a sciences that I developed over my time there.”

Mike is now fully employed at X-Biotech as a manufacturing associate.  X-Biotech is a publicly traded early-stage pharmaceutical company in Austin.

Three cheers for ACC’s life science programs and our ongoing interest in innovation and collaboration.

Picture courtesy ACC Marketing.  Some content courtesy of the 2018 ACC Student Success Report.

The textbook conundrum

Textbooks in higher education – their quality, their cost, their utility, their pedagogy – continue to be the focus of discussion, debate, and deliberation around the country.  This article in The Chronicle of Higher Education provides an overview of the most recent survey of faculty regarding textbooks – traditional, digital, and openly-licensed.

ACC has joined in the debate by trying new approaches to lowering the costs of course materials while increasing the accessibility and availability of such materials. Many faculty would agree with the results of the Babson survey, no matter where you are on the opinion spectrum.  For some, textbooks are too expensive; for others, textbooks still give students a lot of bang for the buck.  For some, openly licensed materials are wonderful for teaching and for accessibility; for others, openly licensed materials are lower quality and do a disservice to students.  The debate will not end any time soon.

Thanks to the innovation and dedication of our faculty, ACC offers Z-classes (zero textbook costs) and Z-degrees (degrees that can be completed by taking only Z-classes).  This effort at ACC occasionally brings us attention from the local press as well as serving our students.  The intent of Z-classes and Z-degrees is to ensure that students have access to required course materials on the first day of class and to make that access free or very low cost.  Too many of our students can’t purchase a textbook until two or three or four weeks into the semester, so they start behind and can never catch up.   Open educational resources can be one solution to that problem.  To date, if you use $100 as an estimate of average textbook costs, ACC’s Z-classes have saved students over $2 million.  That savings is the direct result of the decision of some faculty to adopt open educational resources.

Inclusive access is another way to lower costs and provide access on the first day.  As with the larger textbook debate, faculty are on all sides of the inclusive access issue.  Some argue that inclusive access doesn’t save students that much money, and students prefer/do better with hard copy textbooks.  Others believe that our students today expect electronic access to their required textbook as well as the portability that comes with it, and First Day Access guarantees that students do not start the semester unable to do the required reading.  ACC started its First Day Access program in Summer 2018 and through the Fall we had saved students almost $700,000 in textbook costs when compared to buying a new hard copy textbook.

No matter whether you are a believer in open educational resources, or you are committed to First Day Access, or you are focused on the pedagogical value of a physical textbook, you teach at ACC because you are committed to fostering learning for all your students.  The debate around quality – and access – and pedagogy will continue.  That’s the beauty of the higher education system.  We disagree as much as we agree, but we all support the common goal of education that can alter the trajectory of our students’ lives.  And the beat goes on.